These days, our cell phones have become something of an extension of our bodies. More than just a telephone, our devices have become invaluable instruments in keeping us connected, organized, entertained and informed. The technology truly is a modern miracle. To kids growing up now, it’s common place. But for those of us who remember talking on landlines and pay phones, letters and snail mail, going to the library and reading encyclopedias to research school papers and reports…in a way, it’s the end of an era.
We would make a plan to meet and miraculously all show up. I don’t necessarily remember a friend being late that much of an issue, or maybe we just accepted it in a different way. There was no texting “on my way” or “running l8”. Does having the ability to communicate tardiness actually give people permission to be late? And the person waiting keeps checking their cell phone for an ETA text message, which intensifies the situation and can cause stress and anxiety.
We have become a society of such fast paced, data intensive immediacy. Now 5G technology is being released and with it, the promise of even faster speeds and wider bandwidths to move more data and more connectivity. It makes “faster than a New York minute” seem passé. And the faster the technology becomes, the more we expect everything else in our world to respond in kind.
I love this technology and I’m definitely not against all that it has to offer. There are so many handy features, why wouldn’t you want to have it close by? One could almost say their whole life is stored on that personal electronic device.
I keep a shopping list in my Notes app. One day I was at the grocery store, picked up a few items, and when I went to grab my phone to check my list…I couldn’t find it! I had taken a walk and stopped by the store on my way home. I remembered that my phone was in my coat pocket, but I had warmed up on the walk and took off my coat.
When I got to the store, I hung my coat over the shopping cart and picked up one of those scan it devices (more technology!). Since the last place I remembered having my phone was in the coat, I checked all the pockets. Not finding it, I started to panic a little. I looked in my shopping bags…no luck. I started retracing my steps from when I came in and got the cart, and the aisles I went through…no luck. I rechecked my bags…still nothing.
As I was going through checkout, somewhat in a haze, I tempered the situation with the idea that I had an old spare phone at home that I could temporarily activate…in a pinch. I was about to head over to customer service and ask if someone turned in a phone, while planning to retrace my footsteps on my walk. I thought I would give one more look through my bags, and lo and behold, there it was. How could I have missed it? Seriously…in a moment of distraction, I must have dropped it in the bag…but that I couldn’t see it? And yet, there it was, among the bananas and the almond milk. I was probably so panicked that it temporarily blinded me from seeing it right before my eyes.
I think it’s a common feeling…that panic you get when you can’t find your phone. Again, what did we used to do before cell phones and electronic devices? Being able to contact people anywhere and anytime…and even see them live! (The idea that seemed so far fetched when I used to watch the 1960s cartoon, The Jetsons, is now so ordinary…all I need is that contraption that Jane Jetson goes through to make me look camera ready!) And being able to retrieve data and information has been priceless. Any question you have, you just Google it (or ask Siri or Alexa or…). GPS ability, shopping, business, cameras, games, entertainment…you name it…all in the palm of your hand.
We’ve come to depend so much on these little devices that it’s an interesting experiment to go without. I had such an experience earlier this year, at a ten day silent meditation retreat.
About ten years ago, a friend of mine returned from a trip. He was glowing! He couldn’t say enough good things about this meditation retreat he just went on and highly recommended it. It was at the Vipassana Meditation Center. So being curious, I checked it out online (www.dhamma.org). They teach a specific type of Buddhist meditation, as taught by S.N. Goenka, and there are centers all over the world.
I have to be honest. When I first read about it, I felt a twinge of fear…the kind you get when you’re about to do something really hard core and daring. It was nothing at all like skydiving or bungee jumping (which are not on my bucket list, thank you very much), but I was excited to try it and it scared me, in a good way.
Talk about commitment. It’s not something you can just dip your toe in for a class or a workshop. This is ten days of total submersion. Noble silence. Total silence of body, speech and mind, which is no verbal communication, no gestures, no written communication. And about ten hours a day of meditation. It’s disciplined and intense.
Besides the noble silence, there is a Code of Discipline, four pages outlining all of the requirements and restrictions, such as no reading, writing, exercising, intoxicants, and more. Looking at the daily schedule, which starts at 4am with the sound of a gong, to lights out at 9:30pm, I wondered if I could actually have the discipline to sit and meditate for over ten hours a day. What scared me more…sitting for over ten hours a day meditating, or being cut off from the world?
I’ve been wanting to try it for years, but it was never the right time. When can I actually go for ten days straight with absolutely no communication???
Well, last February the stars aligned and I had the perfect opportunity to go for it. Knowing that you hand over your cell phone, where it’s locked away for the duration of the retreat, there are certain precautions you must take ahead of time. There’s a number I left with my family in case they needed to reach me, and I informed work and others that I will be totally offline…totally. And besides that, psyching myself up for no emails, no social media, no texting, no internet surfing…AND NO NEWS…fake or otherwise.
It was actually refreshing to not have access to my phone. The first few days, I could feel myself wanting to grab it to look something up. But having no idea what was going on in the world was medicine for the soul. And with the meditation, life slowed down. It was really so very peaceful.
When I finally picked up my phone on the way out, I was a little hesitant. I did turn it on for the GPS to navigate my way home, but didn’t want to check emails or texts. I had a little dread thinking about what might be waiting for me, but it wasn’t too bad. The world didn’t fall apart. Now I’m starting to think about when I can go back again!
Challenge for the week: Go off the grid!
When I’m at home, I notice that I carry my phone around like a security blanket. If I’m watching TV or doing something that I can tell I’m not 100% fully invested or interested in, I will habitually grab my phone and scroll social media, check emails or play a game. I find my attention moves between the TV and the phone, not fully engaged in either.
I am starting to become aware when I grab my phone out of a reactive feeling, whether it’s boredom, stress, or any other emotional disturbance. Sometimes technology seems to take over my life, and I become aware that I’m “using and abusing”. But it’s all about balance. That’s when it’s good to go off the grid.
There are people who take a “Technology Shabbat”, where you unplug from all screens for 24 hours. They will commit to no technology…no cell phones, no computers, no tablets, and no TV. They can always use the landline in case of emergency. They spend the time connecting with friends and family, live and in person! Or give themselves time for reading, taking walks, exploring nature or self-reflection.
If all technology for 24 hours is a little extreme, you can create your own “off the grid”. Whether it’s no technology at certain times or no cell phones during certain activities, like eating. Just put it away. I’m working on leaving my cell phone in my room while I watch TV. If I’m not interested enough in what I’m watching, then I shouldn’t be watching it anyway.
In this holiday season, going off the grid may help to lower stress, keep us more present and slow us down to actually enjoy the season.
Have a great week and I hope you find time to go off the grid! Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below.